Disney’s Alleged Control Over Florida’s Reedy Creek Improvement District Sparks Controversy and Legal Scrutiny

Disney is facing allegations that it signed agreements with the Reedy Creek Improvement District that transfer much of the district’s power to the company. The district’s board, which governs Disney’s theme park in Florida, signed the agreements just before the state handed control to the Governor’s office. The agreements give Disney control over development rights throughout the district and require the district to borrow and spend on projects that benefit the company. Additionally, Disney has veto authority over any public project in the district.[0] The agreements also prohibit the district from using the Disney name or any of its intellectual property without permission from the company.[1] The Governor’s office has raised concerns that the agreements may be void as a matter of law due to legal infirmities.[0]

The dispute between Disney and the Governor’s office began last year when Disney publicly opposed a Florida law that prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade and only in an “age appropriate” manner in older grades.[2] Disney has issued a statement pledging to assist in the repeal or nullification of the law through legal means.[0] The company’s special status was threatened when it fought back against DeSantis’ highly contested “Don’t Say Gay” bill.[3] In response, Florida lawmakers passed a bill in February to end “Disney’s self-governing status” and give the governor the authority to appoint new board members to the district.[4]

The agreements signed by Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District have been described as a “subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor” by board member Brian Aungst Jr.[5] The Governor’s office has appointed a new board to oversee the district and retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.[4] The legal document in question states that it will stand until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England” living as of the date of the declaration.[6]

Disney has defended the agreements, stating that they were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.[5] However, the new board members claim that the agreements give Disney control over much of the district’s authority, making the company essentially the government. The agreements allow Disney to build projects at the highest density and the right to sell or assign those development rights to other district landowners without the board having any say.

The ongoing feud between Disney and the Governor’s office is likely to continue as the state investigates the company’s past behavior and the legality of the agreements signed with the Reedy Creek Improvement District.[0] The case serves as a reminder of the complex relationship between large corporations and government bodies, and the importance of transparency and accountability in all agreements and contracts signed.

0. “Disney quietly took power from Gov. DeSantis’ new board before Fla. state takeover” CBS News, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/tampa/news/disney-quietly-took-power-from-gov-desantis-new-board-before-fla-state-takeover

1. “DeSantis-Appointed Board Says Disney Pact Severely Curbs Its Authority Over Special District” Forbes, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/siladityaray/2023/03/30/desantis-appointed-board-says-disney-pact-severely-curbs-its-authority

2. “Disney agreement could reduce Reedy Creek board’s power” News 13 Orlando, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/03/29/disney-agreement-could-reduce-reedy-creek-board-s-power

3. “DeSantis’ board to pay $1,300 an hour to investigate Disney loophole” Business Insider, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/desantis-disney-board-to-pay-lawyers-hourly-investigate-loophole-2023-3

4. “DeSantis’ board overseeing Disney district may be powerless” Business Insider, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/desantis-board-overseeing-disney-district-may-be-powerless-2023-3

5. “Disney tied the hands of new DeSantis-picked Disney World district board” The Week, 30 Mar. 2023, https://theweek.com/disney/1022229/disney-quietly-tied-the-hands-of-new-desantis-picked-disney-world-district-board-for

6. “Disney v DeSantis dispute hinges on clause referencing King Charles III” The Guardian US, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/30/disney-ron-desantis-florida-dont-say-gay

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